The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has a life cycle that involves inhabiting both fresh and salt water. The control and maintenance of ionic balance is under control of the endocrine system. Prolactin is reportedly an important hormone for the ionic balance of salts in the body fluids of fish, especially during the periods of time spent in fresh water. An Atlantic salmon pituitary cDNA library was constructed in λgt 11, from which a full length Atlantic salmon prolactin cDNA was isolated using a chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) prolactin cDNA probe. The sequence of this clone (ATPRL-5) was determined. Comparison of this sequence and other published sequences showed all the prolactin genes isolated to date are highly conserved. The expression of the prolactin mRNA from adult and juvenile salmon was studied after transfer between salinities. Expression varied in the predicted manner. Adult salmon transferred to fresh water showed large increases in the prolactin mRNA level compared to control fish (>600% increase after 72 h). Only a small difference was observed when smolts (juvenile salmon) were transferred to salt water.